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Vajrayana and Theravada Practices in Nepal Mandala

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Vajrayana and Theravada Practices in Nepal Mandala by Naresh Man Bajracharya (Ph. D)

Associate Professor, Central Department of Buddhist Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal 27th Jan. 2011

For LUMBINI SYMPOSIUM Cooperation on promoting the shared Buddhist Heritage between India and Nepal

Lumbini 15 – 17 January 2013

Organized by Lumbini Development Trust and the Embassy of the Republic of India to Nepal

Buddhist Practices in Nepal Mandala

Naresh Man Bajracharya (Ph. D) Founding Former Head, Associate Professor, Central Department of Buddhist Studies, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal 16-17 Jan. 2013.

Buddhist world regards Nepal as the Buddha-ksetra (land of Buddha-s) not only by the birth of Sakyamuni Buddha in Lumbini but also by the birth of Kanakamuni Buddha and Krakucchanda Buddha in Niglihawa and in Gotihawa respectively basis on Asokan pillars with inscription found in those places and the account of Chinese pilgrims Fah-Hian and Yuan Chwang. However a historian may not believe on previous Buddha-s except Sakyamuni Buddha due to disciplinary restraint.

Nepal is enriched with various Buddhist traditions and cultures. The chief Buddhist yana-s are the Sravaka-yana, Pratyeka-buddha-yana and Samyak-sambuddha-yana . The first and last yana-s are found in practice in Nepal. The Samyak-sambuddha-yana, that has been in practice in Himalayan region of Nepal from last more than a millennium, is popularly known as “Himalayan/Mahayna Buddhism in Nepal”. Similarly the Samyak-sambuddha-yana that has been in practice in the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal at least from last fifth centuries is popularly known as the Newar/Vajayana Buddhism of Nepal Mandala. The Sravaka-yana that has been in practice in modern Nepal from last first half of twentieth century is popularly called Theravada Buddhism in Nepal.

Since Dharma friend Ven. Khenpo Chonyi Rangdrol has presented current Himalaya/Mahayana Buddhist practices of Nepal, my paper chiefly aims to highlight the current Newar/Vajrayana Buddhist practices of Nepal Mandala. An attempt has also made to give a brief description of current Theravada Buddhist practices and reformation of Bhiksuni Samgha in Modern Nepal.

1. Current Newar/Vajrayana Buddhist Practices of Nepal Mandala:

In religo-cultural history of Nepal, the term Nepal Mandala stands for the present Kathmandu valley. The Newar community that speaks a Tibeto-Burman language is one of the oldest, and perhaps the original, ethnic group in this valley. This community can be divided into two groups according to religious faith: one is Newar Hindu community, the other is Newar Buddhist community.

Newar Buddhist community has preserved until today a vast library of Sanskrit manuscripts that have been preserved nowhere else, including Indic vajrayana traditions. It is also known for a rich legacy of arts in metal, wood, and stone; Newar Buddhist ritual practices are also similar to those likely practiced a millennia earlier in northern India.

When I use the term Newar Buddhism, this stands for the particular type of Buddhism, which is in practice in Newar Community whose cities, towns, and villages are predominate in the Kathmandu Valley, and in a few areas outside it. Newar Buddhist sages centuries ago defined this Valley as a sacred realm, and their texts define it as “Nepal Mandala.” This tradition has been in practice without any interruption going back to the Licchavi period, with the first inscription found in 464 CE. The form of monastic Buddhism mentioned in the Licchavi inscriptions suggest that early Newar Buddhism resembled with that in northern India. Newar Buddhism is a form of Vajrayan Buddhism so the Newars called Vajraynist. Several indigenous values along with the uniquenesses are noticed in the Newar Buddhism so it is known as Nepalese Buddhism. Here an attempt has been made to highlight several aspects of its monasticism, major ritual practices etc. and thus to situate Nepalese Buddhism in the modern Buddhist world.

a. Legendary Background of Newar/Vajrayana Buddhism:

Newar textual traditions dating back to the 12th century claim that Buddhism prevailed in this Valley called Nepal Mandala even before the advent of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni. Other Buddhas like Vipasvi, Sikhi, Visvabhu, Kasyapa and Krakucchanda Buddha had at one time trod with their holy feet in the land of Nepal. In fact, Buddhism in Nepal is related to the origin of the Kingdom itself. These are indicated in the local Buddhist source entitled “Svayambhubhattarakoddesa”, popularly known as "Svayambhupurana" and reflected in the prevailing cultural festivals which take place in Nepal from the ancient times to the present generation.

According to the “Svayambhubhattarakoddesa” in the Golden Age (Satyayuga), the present valley was a holy lake 14 miles by 14 miles surrounded by mountains and dense forest. Since ancient times it had been a holy place for all Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and for Nagarajas.

At this time there was a Buddha named Vipasvi in the place called Bandhumati Nagara. Vipasvi Buddha, having heard of the holy lake came here with his disciples for pilgrimage visit. After taking bath in the holy lake, Vipasvi Buddha from the mountain to the north-west, (present Jamaco, Nagarjun hill) threw a seed of the lotus into the lake. Vipasvi Buddha then made predictions that in the future that seed would make a lotus flower with a thousand petals. The Buddha further said to his disciples that on the top of the lotus would manifest the Adi-Buddha in the form of Svayambhujyotirupa (Self-created Light). The Buddha and his disciples having paid homage to the holy lake returned to their native place.

After Vipasvi Buddha, it was end of the Golden Age Sikhi Buddha appeared in the earth. At this time lotus flower with a thousand petals was blossoming from the seed planted by Vipasvi Buddha. On the top of the lotus flower Adi-Buddha in the form of Light Svayambujyotirupa manifested. Then Sikhi Buddha and his disciples came for pilgrimage visit at the holy lake from Aruna Nagara. They sat in meditation on the peak to southwest of the valley called Dhyanaco. Sikhi Buddha uttered the religious importance of the Svayambhujyotirupa.

After a long time in the lineage of Buddhas there appeared Visvabhu Buddha in this world. Visvabhu Buddha along with his disciples arrived from Anupama Nagara at the holy lake and they paid homage to the Adi-Buddha (Syayambhujyotirupa) from the peak of the southeast of the valley, known as Phulloco.

Then after, in the middle of Tretayuga Manjudeva Acarya, a Bodhisattva, the Nirmanakaya of Manjusri with his consorts namely Varada and Moksada and also with Dharmakara, the Prince and other people from the holy mountain called Pancasirsaparvata (five peaks mountain) of Mahacina (Great-China) arrived at this lake to pay homage to the Adi-buddha (Svayambhujyotirupa). Manjudeva Acarya, then wishing to make a delightful country out of the sacred lake drained all water by cutting the gorge called Kotuval, the lowest hillock located in the south of the lake (present back to the Dakshinkali temple). Meanwhile, preserving some water of the lake, he made a lake named Taudaha and gave shelter to Karkotaka Snake there. Taudaha is famous even today.

When all water-drained out from the lake, the thousand-petal lotus with the self-created light bent downs and took rest on a hill called Gosrngaparvat (present Svyambhuhill).

As mentioned in “Svayambhubhattarakoddesa”, after draining out water from that lake, he failed to close the passage as water was continuously flowing out of the hole that contained the root of the thousand petals lotus on which Adi-Buddha manifested in the form of light. After this, Manjudeva Acarya sat on the yoga called Jalastambhana in order to close the source of water. As a result of this yoga the water flowing out of this hole went up and got sprinkled here and there. By virtue of this sprinkled water, he observed, through yoga, the manifestation of Samvaras (Samvarodaya) along with their respective consorts (Vajrayana-deities). Then Manjudeva Acarya, after invoking the goddess known as Hevajranairatmadevi, paying homage to her and installing several Pithas (religious sites) with the concept of a Mandala. He finally established a town and its capital enthroned Dharmakara, the Prince whom he brought from Mahacina here as a King. The country was named Manjupattan after Manjudeva Acaraya and the capital became famous as Rajapattan. It is said that the first king of Nepal was Dharmakara. King Dharmakara ruled the people making them strictly follow the rules and regulations after formulating them, since he became the king, so the county became famous by the name Nepal Mahamandala

At the end of Tretayuga Krakuchanda Buddha came to Nepal along with his disciples and then went to Sankhodaka (north side of the country) and granted Buddhist ordination to his disciples there.

Kanakamuni Buddha appeared at the outset of Dvaparayuga. (The Svayambhupuran does not mention the visit of Kanakamuni Buddha to Nepal.)

In the later part of Dvaparayuga, Kasyapa Buddha visited Nepal on pilgrimage and paid homage to the Svyambhujyotirupa. Thereafter he departed for Gauda, a country ruled by King Pracandadeva. King Pracandadeva and his queen arrived Nepal from his country Gauda after enthroning his prince there. King Pracandadeva and his queen paid homage to Hevjranairatma goddess and Adi-Buddha (Svayambhujyotirupa). At that time there was a Vajracarya, the Buddhist spiritual guide named Gunakara in Nepal. King Pracadadeva became a disciple of Vajracharya Gunakara and took Buddhist ordination (pravajya samvara) under the new name Santisri Bhikshu. After this Santisri Bhiksu was given Vajracarya Abhiseka (initiation/empowerment) and named as Santikara Vajracarya.

Even at that time the Adi-Buddha (svayambhujyotirupa) was still there in the same form. Santikara Vajracarya covered the Adi Buddha by Jewel Stone erected a Caitya called Dharmadhatu Caitya, which is at present famous as Svayambhu Caitya or temple. Santikara Vajracharya invoked many deities and established their shrines. Among them a cave called Santipur is one where he is said to have established Mahasamvara. It is believed that he is still in the cave in Yoga.

In Kaliyuga Sakyamuni Buddha was born in Lumbini. The Lumbini is a part of modern Nepal. The Sakyamuni Buddha came to Nepal valley and stayed in Svayambhugopuchagraparvat. He firstly granted Buddhist ordination to a lady named Cunda and narrated the account on origin of Adi-buddha (Svaymbujyotirupa) and on origin of Nepal.

A student of history may disagree with the description, stated in the holy text “Svayambhubhattarakoddesa” but Nepalese Buddhist people strongly believe that Manjudeva Acarya introduced Buddhism specifically Mahayana/Vajrayana form of Buddhism in Nepal from Mahacina (the Greater China) in the middle of Tretayuga, by creating the country Manjupattana (present Nepal ). Dharmakara, who was brought from Mahacina, was the first king of the country. The earlier inhabitants of the Nepal valley are the people from Mahachina.

b. Historical Background of Buddhism Newar/Vajrayana Buddhism:

In the Mulasarvastivadin Vinayavastu, a Buddhist text dating back to the 4th century CE, one passage states that Shakyas from Kapilavastu and Vanikas (merchants) from Sravasti migrated to Naivala (identified as Nepal mandala) during the lifetime of Shakyamuni Buddha. Then Bhiksu Ananda, the attendant of Shakyamuni Buddha, is also said to have visited Nepal Mandala to meet the Shakyas and Vanikas there. It may be that these Shakyas and merchants introduced Buddhism in Nepal Mandala and Bhiksu Ananda supported its foundation. Another textual story states that Emperor Ashoka had visited Nepal along with his one of daughters and gave her in marriage to a local king. To this day, there are four shrines popularly known as Ashoka Stupa around Lalitpur city and many shrines called “Ashok Caitya” found in dozens of monastic courtyards and these are still worshipped. Little archaeological research has been done in Nepal, and none yet has corroborated these stories.

The ancient history of Nepal comes to life in the Licchavi inscriptions (440A.D. to 879A.D.) These testify that some Licchavi kings were inclined to Buddhism, supported the sangha, built monasteries and stupas, and supported the creation of images of the Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Both they and merchants likely contributed to the promotion of Buddhism. Other Licchavi kings, however, were devotees of Siva and Vishnu, and built large temples to honor them and the Brahmins who served them. The Bhikshu and Bhikshuni Samghas resided in monasteries, and one of the earliest mentions of the term “Mahayana” is found in Nepal; the term “Vajrayana” is also found to have been inscribed in one stone inscription belonging to the first half of 7th century.

According to Tibetan records, a Nepalese Princess named Bhrikuti played an instrumental role in introducing Buddhism to Tibet after her marriage with Tibetan emperor Srog-tSen-Gam-Po (617-650 A.D.). After the year 1000 CE during the “second introduction” of Buddhist from the Gangetic plains into Tibet, Nepal was an intermediary point for many Indian masters like Atisha and Dharmasvamin. Nepal Mandala was a transit place for Indian Acharyas to go to Tibet. In this and subsequent centuries, Nepalese Buddhist masters were invited to Tibet and many Tibetans came to Nepal to study and collect Sanskrit texts for translation. Nepal Mandala by 1300 was a center for Buddhist learning for Tibetans.

In the later medieval history of Nepal (1200-1769 CE) Buddhist traditions continued to evolve and grow, with the strongest influence exerted by the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions. The traditions were now cut off from the Pala and Sena centers in the Gangetic plains, and while Sanskrit texts from the south remained central, new works were composed that adapted these traditions to the circumstances of Nepal Mandala itself. Samgha members increased and hundreds of monasteries were built, especially in the main cities of Kantipur (Kathmandu), Lalitapattana(Lalitpur/Patan), and Bhaktapur. New Buddhist festivals were introduced. As individuals and entire social groups migrated for trade or agriculture, they assimilated and adopted the language and Buddhist culture that flourished due to the fertile Valley soils and the extraordinary wealth earned from Indo-Tibetan trade. The Newar artisan community also reached very high standards of artistic merit, and so they were called upon by the aristocrats and monks of Buddhist Tibet to build new monasteries, cast new images, and paint devotional works of art. In the medieval period, all who wished could likely be granted Buddhist ordination without any discrimination.

During the later Malla dynasties in Nepala Mandala (1482-1769) the cultural tide supported in the royal courts seems to have come under greater Hindu influence, with brahmins at court, and the rule by Hindu law (Dharmashastra) affecting all communities. At this time, the Newar community had to observe pollution and purity norms to a greater degree, so that marriage norms came to be observed on group lines, and the principles of caste law were now followed. The Buddhist masters seem to have made the best of this situation, adapting Mahayana principles and Vajrayana practices to create rituals that conform to Brahmanical temple practices and samskara rites of passage. Some of the monasteries had their monks form patrilineages and marry, closing off ordination as “monks” only to their male descendants, a pattern that continues until the present day. Many of these “married monks” who adopted the surname “vajracarya” served the wider Buddhist community by performing rituals for them. This formulation of hundreds of rituals for individuals, temple images, festival processions is still a characteristic of Buddhism in Nepal today.

Buddhism in modern Nepal (1769 CE up to the present day) was affected by the conquest of the Kathmandu Valley by outsiders of the Shah dynasty, and their partisan support of Hindu traditions, and their disestablishment of land tenure .The Shah Royal Court established in the new state was located right in the heart of Nepala Mandal and did not favor Buddhism. By the end of the Rana period (1900-1950), discrimination against Newar language and rituals reached its peak. Situation was so worse that Hindu elements such as castism; gender discrimination; animal sacrifices, notion of God and Atma were in practice widely even in Buddhist society without hesitation. Despite the suppression of Hindu royal politics on Buddhism Buddhists Newars keep Buddhism alive anyway .

The political movement for democracy in first half of twentieth century brought awareness to the public. Buddhist Newars disenchanted with the wrong practices that were in practice in terms of Mahayana-Vajrayana practices helped bring the reformist Theravada Buddhism into modern Nepal. The Theravada movement commented strongly against most ritual practices prevailing by the time and supported resistance to unfavorable royal polices. People were attracted towards the Theravada practices.

Today, then Newar Buddhist community is becoming less conservative in regard to caste ideology and more open to new interpretations of the Dharma. A number of new Buddhist organizations are endeavoring to conserve and reform Newar Mahayana-Vajrayana Buddhism.

c. Aspects of Newar Buddhism:

1. Monasticism

i. Monasteries and common features of monasteries:

More than three hundred Viharas (Buddhist Monasteries) are in existence until today in the Kathmandu Valley. Each Vihara has two names, one is in Sanskrit language and other is in local (Newar) language. The Vihars are categorized as the Mu-Baha (Main Monastery), Baha, and Bahi each with satellite Kacha-bahas (Branch Monasteres) based on Samgha and architectural differences. But all Viharas have been given a title with “Mahavihara” in it.

Across the Newar settlements in Nepal Mandala, a Vihara is a four-sided monastic building built around an open courtyard. It is a brick and wooden structure, usually of two storeys. Their foundation, walls and pillars are of bricks; doors and windows are made of wood, many with intricate carving. Wooden struts support the clay-tile roofs. The courtyard is defined by a ground floor plinth that is a foot or more above this brick pavement. A caitya known as Vajradhatu Caitya is installed at the center of the courtyard. Many viharas have other caityas located there, the donations of local Newar families.

The three sides of the floor are open halls, each situated in the centre of each arm. The main entrance hall has two benches and images of Mahakala and Ganesh set into the wall. On the fourth side, opposite to the entrance is the main shrine of the Vihar. The ground-floor shrine houses a big image of Buddha along with a few other small Buddhist images. Only members of the Samgha of each Vihara are allowed to enter into the shrine, but all individuals but can view it from outside. Above the shrine is a fivefold windows room where esoteric or tantric images are established. This upstairs room is known as the “Agama”. Only the initiated samgha members are allowed to view the images found there. All Viharas had been renovated many times. At present a few viharas are with an intact architecture.

ii. Monastic Order:

It has already mentioned above that that Vihars are categorized according to the type of Samgha that has its lineage located in the Vihara. Architectural differences are matched by differences in Samgha membership of them inhabiting there. The Newar Samgha is divided into two parts, Shakya and Bajracarya. Males born into these families become Shakya and members of Shakya Samgha by obtaining the Buddhist ordination called “Pravajya;” those born into Bajracharya families become members of the Bajracharya Samgha by obtaining “Acharyabhiseka”.

Following the types mentioned above, most of the Mu-Baha (Main Monastery) Samghas consist of male Bajracharyas as the members of the Samgha. The Samgha of that Mu-baha is also popularly known as the Bajracharya Samgha. A few Mu-bahas are mixed, consisting of male Bajracharys and a third group called Shakya-bhikshus as the members. All the Bahis have Samghas that consist only of Shakya-bhikshus.

Each Sangha is organized according to age seniority and tantric initiation. In some Viharas the first five, in some the first ten, in some the first twenty and in some the first thirty Samgha members are referred to as “Sthavira.” After death of a Sthavira the next junior member is promoted into the Sthavira rank. In the case of the Bajracharya Samgha, the senior most Sthavira is regarded as “the Chakresvara”. The senior most Chakesvara in Kantipur is regarded as “Mula-chakresvara.” The use of this term of course refers to tantric practice since to be promoted to the Sthavira rank, an individual must take the Chakrasamvara-initiation. The committee of Sthaviras in each Vihara is authorized to make decisions for the Samgha of its own Vihara.

For at least the past two centuries, the Samgha members of each Vihara can get married and can have a family. The wives of Shakyas and Bajracharyas are also regarded as the Shakya-bhikshunis and the Bajracharyas respectively. In fact Shakya bhiksus of one monastery prefer to arrange marriages with Shakya-bhishunis of other monasteries. Similarly male Bajracharyas of a monastery prefer to arrange marriages with female Bajracharyas of other monasteries. It is mandatory for the male children of Shakya-bhikshus to take Buddhist ordination in their respective Vihara, or their forfeit their rights and ability to worship in the monastery shrine. Shakya-bhikshus/ bhikshunis are regarded higher ranking and Bajrachary are the highest ranking above Newar all Buddhists social hierarchy.

c. Major Monastic Activities:

i. Buddhist Ordination and Acarya Initiation:

Buddhist ordination is one of the main monastic activities in Newar Buddhist communities. It takes place as needed that is when there are enough young men who want to complete this life-cycle ritual. In some Viharas, the Samgha elders organize the ordination program; in some Viharas, an individual family will organize it when its sons come of age. A team of the Sthaviras gives the ordination and Acharya-abhiseka following a specific ritual in their respective Viharas. Male children of Shakya family become the member of Shakya Samgha by obtaining the Buddhist ordination. Male children of Bajracharya family become Bajracharya by obtaining the first ordination, but then doing the second, the “Acharyabhiseka” in their father’s home monastery. After obtaining the Acharya-abhiseka the new Bajracharyas are trained in performing the most common ritual, the Buddhist Homa and from that time afterwards they are empowered to perform it for patrons.

b. Other major Initiations:

The Shakyas and Bajracharya used to undertake several initiations and trainings on several Yoga practices. At present, some members of the Samgha take the Initiation of Avalokitesvara, Chakrasamvara, Vajravarahi, and Chandamaharosana (Achala) (in order of practice today). Chakrasamvara Trisamadhi, Chandali-Yoga, Chandamaharosana Trisamdhi, Balyarchan yoga, Smasana yoga, Utkranti yogas etc. are practiced very secretly. All these initiations are now limited within a very few Shakyas and Bajracharyas communities and are followed according to strict rules of secrecy. Besides to the Shakya and Bajracharya, the members of the Uray community in Kathmandu also can obtain these initiations and practice the meditations in their own family Agams (Esoteric Buddhist Shrines).

c. Daily Rituals in monastery:

Daily ritual takes place in every monastery. Each member of the Samgha performs the daily ritual by rotation. Esoteric ritual named “aumshi puja” used to take place on the fifteenth day of dark half of a month (aumshi tithi) in the Agama of every monastery but only a few monasteries observe the ritual today. Samgha members used to recite several Mahayana-sutras and praising verses (stotras) jointly in all monasteries daily, and only a few still do so today. Most do this twice in a month; one on the every eighth day of bright half of a month (sukalpaksha astami) and the other on every full moon day. Samvarodaya Parva (dishi puja), an esoteric ritual is observed on the tenth day of dark half of Paush month (Paush Krishna Dashami) in every year in most of the monasteries marking the accomplishment (Shadhana) of Hevajra-nairatma by Acharya Manjudeva.

Buddhist images, especially those of Dipankara Buddha are displayed for public for a month of Sravana in most of the monasteries.

Each Monastery used to conduct its assembly once in a year. Now a days a very few monasteries are following the traditions. In Kathmandu, there are eighteen mu-bahas (main monasteries) and grouped into three according to the geographical location like northern (upper), middle and southern (lower) directions. Each group conducts its regional assembly once in a year; finally all in united form conduct a national assembly known as “De Acha Guthi” (“Country Acharya Assembly”) once in a year.

2. Buddhist Community:

Buddhist community is found to have formed with the combination of Samgha and the laity. Masters in the Newar Samgha used to serve the other Buddhists by several means: as spiritual master teaching meditation; as priests performing rituals; as doctors using herbs and mantras to promote community health; as astrologers conjuring the best time for marriages and other events. Shakyas do not serve as priests. Nowadays a very few Shakyas and Bajracharyas are involved engage in religious service, and it is the Bajracharyas who are still active in doing rituals for patrons. Today, only a few support themselves only through ritual service and most have other main sources of livelihood. One old and important specialization the Newar samgha of Shakyas and Bajracharyas has long undertaken is fashioning jewelry, ornaments, and Buddhist images.

The Newar laity community is comprised of several caste communities. The last name of each society is entitled after their traditional professions. For example the society, which involves in copper works by tradition, is entitled Tamrakara. Similarly, by the last names like Kamsakara, Sikharakara, Silpakara, Tandukara, Chitrakara, Mali/Malakara, Ranjitkara, Lohakara etc. can be understood their traditional profession. Now a days Buddhist communities do not follow their traditional professions strictly and the professions are not limited within them too.

3. Family Priest and Follower System:

Each Bajracharya family used to have a circle of followers whom it served as their Buddhist family priest, serving by performing rituals in both happy (birth, marriage, etc.) and sorrowful events (sickness and death). Most of the major Buddhist practices are observed in the presence and under the guidance of family priest. At present, this Buddhist priest’s work cannot compete with the modern politics; administration; education; business. Most Bajracharyas have given up their priestly profession and so their followers, too. Today, Newar householders depend on a small number of individuals who still know and understand the old traditions.

4. Major Buddhist Practices:

i. Ritual for Passages of life:

Buddhist community observes rituals on the occasion of all major passage of life. It also observes rituals for the cremation of a death body. If further observe rituals on different days and months after death till a year. Afterwards death anniversary ritual is observed annually. Family priest performs all the rituals for the followers. Some rituals are very common as well as open to all but some are very secret. All the practices commence with ritual and end with ritual. Ritualism is one of characteristic of Nepalese Buddhism.

ii. Visiting Viharas and temples:

Visiting Viharas and temples is considered as one of major Buddhist practice. People visit temples and monasteries near by their residence in very day. The every eighth day of white half of each month and full moon day are considered as the most auspicious days to visit temple and monasteries. People visit Stupa/Caitya and monasteries for a month of Sravana. Again people visit Bodhisattva temples for a month of Kartika. Occasionally People make plan to visit all the monasteries in one day with musical instrument, offering materials etc.

iii. Pilgrimage Visit:

As a part of Buddhist practices people pay pilgrimage visit in several local Buddhist sites like temples, conjunction of rivers (tirth), natural wells/ponds, hills, mountains etc. Taking bath in the conjunction of rivers and natural wells and ponds is the one of objective of pilgrimage visit. Priest narrates history and legends behind the spots. Pilgrims receive moral precepts in the holy places and observe Vrata ritual too. Giving (Dana) a specific object according the places is an important part of the pilgrimage visit.

iv. Vrata:

Vatra is a package of Buddhist practice. Shadhana of a particular deity/mandala like Manjusri, Avoalokitesvara, Tara, Vasudharaj, Dharmadhatu, Mahakala etc., following eight precepts (astasila), discourse on ten misdeeds and on vrata-kath (Sutra, Jataka, Avadana etc.), Dana etc. are the main contents of Buddhist Vrata. Followers observe one day long Varat on particular date according to the deity under the guidance of priest. It is observed either once a year or once a month for a year or two years and further more. Vrata is observed in residence courtyard, residence, monasteries, Tirths and other pilgrimage sites.

v. Caitya Establishment

People establish Chaitya in side the monastery courtyard or residential courtyards or bank of river or on the top hills. Some people dedicated the establishment of a Chaitya after the name of demise people. Establishment of a Chaitya is followed with the Pratistha ritual. Establishment of a Chaitya is regarded as one of great Dharma.

vi. Saptavidhanuttara puja:

Saptavidhanuttara puja is a very popular Buddhist practices. It is an union of meditation and ritual practices. Main Aim of this puja is to take vow to be a Buddha in future. Observers/followers are given Bodhisattva Abhiseka (initiation) at the end of ritual.

vii. Harati puja:

Harati puja is also very popular Buddhist practices. Shakyamuni Buddha had transformed Harati Yakshani as a saver from killer through his psychotherapy and miracle power. Since then Harati is regarded as protective deity in Buddhism. In fact Harati puja is a Yakshani Shadhana.

viii. Homa puja:

Kalasharcana and Mamaki puja are the common mode of ritual. Homa puja is an other mode of puja among many modes. Rituals are some time performed along with Homa puja. In some case Homa puja is compulsory and in some case option. Observation of ritual along with Homa ritual is considered as a high level of ritual by the society. There are independent Homa rituals too.

iv. Sutra Patha:

Reading, make read, listening and make listen the Mahayana-Sutras like Prajnaparamita Sutra, Pancharaksha Sutra etc. is a meritorious deed as mentioned in Mahayansutra. It is a traditional Buddhist practices that followers make priests read the Sutras and listen them. Sutras are read in many occasions like different phases of installation of Caitya/Stupa, construction of monastery, birthday celebration etc.

5. Festivals:

Buddhist people celebrate a series of festival every year. Most of the festivals are celebrated according to lunar calendar while a few according to solar calendar. Buddha’s birth day that celebrated in Vaishkha full moon day; Gumla for a month of Sravana; Dana festivals in Sravan; Samvaroday parva in the month of Paush, Dana festival and Sri-panchami festival in the month of Magha; Namasamgiti parva on Chaitra full moon day are of remarkable Buddhist festivals. Among them couples of festival like Buddha’s birth day, Namasamgiti Parva etc. are introduced in modern period of Nepal.

6. Co-existence:

Buddhism could survive in Nepal mandala following the Buddhist theories of co-existence, patience, skillful means etc. Most of the kings were strong followers of Hinduism (Saivaism etc.). Castism was implemented even for Buddhist people as the law and order of the country in the medieval history of Nepal mandala. Buddhist people are granted fund to celebrate Hindu festivals by ruler and administration then. Buddhist people have followed the Buddhist theory of co-existence, patience and harmony with skillful means so they never exiled from their land. Now a day Buddhist followers are living together even with Islam and Christian communities with peace and harmony.

7. Ultimate Goal of Neawr/Vajrayana Buddhist Practices:

People practice Buddhism throughout the life. People practice Buddhism after the name of demised people too. Finally, they dedicate the merits (punya), gained from their practices, wishing Buddhahood for all living beings. They make wish or state in inscription “By doing all these practices all living beings may attain Samyaksambodhi

2. Current Theravada Buddhist practices in Modern Nepal.

a. Background:

However Sarvastivadin Buddhist literature indicates for the introduction to Buddhism in Naival (present Nepal) either by Sakyas of Kavilavastu or Merchants of Sravasti or Bhiksu Ananda during the life time of Sakyamuni Buddha himself. History of Lichksavi period reveal Mahasanghika, Mahayana and Vajrayana sects and both Bhiksu Samgha and Bhisksuni Samgha prevailed in those days. Medieval Nepal history exposed only Mahayana-Vajrayana sect then. Early and Medieval Nepal history did not give clear indication for existence of Theravada Buddhism in Nepal. Nevertheless scholars believed that Tharavada might have prevailed at least in Early Nepal.

b. Theravada Bhiksu-s and Anagarika-s in modern Nepal:

Bhiksu Mahaprajna was the first Nepalese Theravadin monk in the history of modern Nepal. He, who was a Hindu by birth, was initially ordained as Gelung in Tibetan tradition in 1926, later ordained again according to Theradavin tradition from Ven. U. Chandramani, a Burmese monk at Kusinagara in 1928 A.D. Gradually a few people got opportunity to ordain as Sramanera (male novices) and Bhiksu (monk) in Myanmar, Srilanka and Thailand. They also got opportunity to study and practice Buddhism under the systemic Buddhist monasticism and Buddhist academic centers. Later on it became possible to be ordained in Nepal too. Nearly 400 Sramanera-s novices have undertaken Upasampada ordination (full-fledge monkhood life) till date. There are more than hundred Sramanera-s till now.

Ratnapali, Dharmapali and Samghapali were the first three-Anagarika-s (female novices). They were also ordained under the Ven. U. Chandramani in 1931A.D. in Kusinagara. More than 200 female have under taken Aanagariaka ordination till date. Besides the lifelong Sramanera, Anagarika, and Bhiksu ordination the short term (for few days/months) Sramanera and Anagarika and Rshi and Rshini pravajya are also becoming popular trend. Lay followers both male and female are inclining to have the short term ordination for their wish to experience pious life as a monk and nun and as an easier, simple and economic alternate against the traditional complex adult rites.

At the twenty year of age Sramaner-s get Bhiksu ordination. After ten years of experience as a Bhiksu he is promoted as the “Sthavira” and after next ten year again he is promoted as the Mahasthaviara. The senior most is enthroned as the “Samghamahanayaka” or “Samghanayaka” while next to him as “Samghaupanayaka” in Bhiksu Samgha. Generally whether Sramanear-s or Bhisksu-s all of them are addressed as “Bhante” and similarly anagarika-s and Bhiskuni-s are addressed as “Guruma” by the lay Buddhist followers with respect. (Bhiksuni in modern Nepal would be dealt below.)

c. Theravada Monasteries:

There are 106 Theravada Monasteries in and out of Kathmandu. Most of them are situated in cities. Some monasteries are inhabited by Male samgha members (Sramaneara-s and Bhiksu-s), some are inhabited by Female Samghamembers (Anagariak-s and Bhiksuni-s) and monasteries are inhabited by both male and female Samgha members. Eleven monasteries have Uposadhagara, the special place where the Upasampada ordination is given to Sramanera.

d. Theravada Monastic Practices:

Monastic life begins with Buddha-puja in all Monasteries. All the Samgha members assemble in the main hall and commence morning ritual with Buddha-puja and followed by Paritrana chanting and meditation. Then they engage in monastic duties like cleaning etc., breakfast and their personal affairs like study, practices etc. They take lunch before 12 noon. At evening they gather again at the main hall and do the Buddha-puja, Paritrana chanting and meditation.

Samgha observe Vassvasa (rain retreat) for three months (next day of Ashadha full moon to next day of Asvin full moon). Vassavasa is followed by Kathina-utsava, a festival in which the lay followers express gratitude to monks for vVassavasa. The lay followers honored monks with Dana, especially new robes for them. It is celebrated on next the full moon day i.e. of Kartika month.

e. The followers of Theravada:

Most of the Theravada Samgha members belonged to Newar Buddhist community (Newar Vajrayan Buddhist Community) while a few belonged to several other ethnic communities. It is noteworthy that on one hand the Newar Buddhist community is following the Vajrayana Buddhism as tradition. On other hand the same community is following the Theravada Buddhism too as new practices. They observe rituals for the passages of life and for after life according to Vajrayana tradition. They celebrate traditional Buddhist festivals. In addition to that they follow the Theravadin tradition too.

f. Theravada Lay Buddhist Practices:

On the each eighth day of bright and dark half of month, full moon and no moon day and the first day of each month local followers visit monastery early in the morning nearby their residence. Under the instruction of the abbot or senior Samgha member of the monastery they follow the Buddha-puja, receive pancasila (five moral precepts), listen the dharma discourse and may practice meditation too. Finally they honor the Samgha members with “Dana”(offering money or material or the both). Some of them may takes Astasila (eight moral precepts) on the auspicious day like eighth day of bright half of a month, full moon day etc. in the monastery. They may observe the Astasila at the monastery or their residence for the day. Some lay followers invite Samgha members (the number of Samgha members depends on the wishes of the inviter) in their residence on several occasion like birthday, some passage of life like marriage etc.; for foundation for new house construction, for inauguration of business. Similarly they invite Samgha members when they face problems like sickness of family member, declining the business and any obstacles. They do the Triratna Vandana (salutation to triple gems) and beg for Sarana-gamana (triple refuge) and Pancasila to the Samgha. Senior Samgha member gives the saran-gamana and pancasila. The entire Samgha member chant paritrana-suttas. Then senior or one of the Samgah members delivers discourse matching with the occasion and the situation. After this Samgha members are honored with dana (offering money and materials) and Bhojana (lunch). Finally Samgha members chant a Sutta called Punaynumodana (dedicating the merits for the welfare of all family members, relatives etc.). Some lay followers invite Samgha members on the occasion of death to chant Paritrana-suttas in front of death body either in their residence or at the cremation site.

Occasionally Samgha and lay followers organize Mahaparitrana event. The event used to be conducted for whole day and night but now days it is conducted only in day. The Mahaparitran used to be chanted by only monks but now it is chanted by Nuns too. Some monks and nuns also prefer to chant Paththana (abhidhamma paththana) as the Paritranapatha. . g. Buddhist festivals: i. Vaisakha full moon day/Buddha Jayanti: It is celebrated on the full moon day of Vaisakha month marking the Buddha’s birth, attainment of enlightenment and passing away. It was started since 1926 A.D. in Nepal. ii. Ashadha full moon day/Dharmacakrapravartandivasa: It is observed on the full moon day of Ashadha month marking the day in which Buddha gave his first discourse at Saranatha. The day is also celebrated as the day in which Svetaketu Bodhisattva descended from Tusita Bhuvana and took place in the womb of Mahamaya and as the day of Siddhartha’s renunciation of household life and adaptation of ascetic life for the quest of enlightenment.

iii. Gumla:

Gumla is a name of the month Sravana according to the lunar calendar. This month is considered as the Dharma-masa (month for dharma practice) according in Newar Buddhism. Similarly the same month has been regarded as the Dharma-masa by Theravadin. Each monastery schedules programs like chanting paritrana, preaching the dharma etc. for whole month.

h. Pilgrimage visit:

Theravadin Buddhist order firstly, introduces Lumbini, Bodhagaya, Sharanath and Kusinagra as the Buddhist pilgrimage sites in the history of modern Nepal. It has also introduced several places like Sravasti, Sanchi etc. in India. It further made Nepalese people familiar with Sir-Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand for Buddhist pilgrimage visit.

i. Socially engaged Buddhism:

Besides promoting Dhamma a few Theravada monks and nuns have also been involving in social welfare activities like organizing free health camps, educational training either in the monasteries or outside the monasteries. They also founded center for old age and Kindergarten. Many monasteries organized free clinics. Regular clinics like eye and Homeopathic were run either on weekly or monthly basis. Annual health campaigns are also run when it was felt necessary. All Nepal Bhikkhu Sangha established a Theravada education system called Pariyatti Sikkha in 1964 A.D. There are more than 32 centers throughout the country. Presently, its head office is at Viswo Santi Vihara in New Baneswora, Kathmandu.

Besides Pariyatti Sikkha, Ven. Amritananda (late) founded a Buddhist school - ‘Anandakuti Vidyapith Boarding School’. A few monks and nuns are also running other educational institutions like ‘Nursery school (Siddhartha Shisu Niketan, Buddha Vihar), Primary school (Triple Gem Boarding School) and Higher Schools.

j. Translation and publication of Tripitaka:

It was the Theravadin who made Nepalese people familiar with Pali language and Tripitaka. A group of monks, nuns and lay Buddhist have been paying efforts in translating Pali Buddhist text into Nepal-bhasa (Newari language). Recently Tripitaka translation mandala has been formed under the coordination of Ven. Bhiksu Kondinya with the aim to complete the translation works of entire Tripitaka into Nepal-bhasa within a couple of years.

k. Vipassana meditation:

However Nepalese Theravada Samgha brought Pali Buddhist teachings in modern Nepal. The Theravadain Vipassana meditation is being made popular in Nepal by a Burmise monk and a householder Buddhist master. Now days there are two major Vipassana traditions and meditation centers with a few branches. Vipssana meditation training is found being very regular. Not only lay Buddhist but also non Buddhists are also attracted towards Vipassana Meditation.

3. Reformation of Bhiksuni Samgha in Modern Nepal:

Local legendary source indicates Bhiksuni-s were in even in prehistoric period of Nepal. Svayambhubhattrokoddesa states Chunda was the first lady who had been ordained as a Bhiksuni at parvatsthana (western part of present Svayambhu) by Sakyamuni Buddha himself. Another local source pointed out that Charumati visited Nepal along with his father Emperor Asoka. Emperor Asoka gave her in marriage to prince Devapal in Nepal. After demise of his husband, Charumati took Bhisuni ordination and spend rest of her life in the very monastery, built by herself after her marriage. Few Licchavi inscriptions reveal historical fact that Mahayana Bhiksuni Samgha-s were in existence at least in three places in those days. In Malla period female members of Sakya family were termed as Bhiksuni. It is a matter of fact but sad that the celibacy Bhiksu and Bhiksuni tradition were disappeared after Lichhavi period for long time in Nepal Mandala. Fortunately it once again appeared in the history of modern Nepal. The venerable Anagarika-s namely Dhammavati, Dhammadinna and Dhammvajaya were ordained as Bhiksuni in Shilai Monastery in Los Angeles, US under the Taiwanese Mahayana Traditions in 1989A.D. Twenty- eight Anagarika-s have received Bhiksuni (nun) Ordination till date. For them whether it is Theravada or Mahayana does not matter, all are the Buddhayana-s. Buddhayan is the only one “yana”. The re-formation of Bhiksuni in Nepal opens a significant chapter in the history of Buddhism in modern Nepal.


Despite of the Hindu politics domination Newar Buddhism has never let die Buddhism in Nepal Mandala at any cost. History, Buddhist monasteries, art, architecture and culture witness for contribution of Newar Buddhism of Nepal Mandala for preserving Buddhist identity of Nepal itself. Newar Buddhism has also contributed for “World Heritage” continuing the Sanskrit based Vajrayan tradition and preserving Sanskrit Buddhist Literature in Nepal. On one hand when time was not in favor Newar Buddhists had shown Upayakausala (skillful means) for preserving Buddhism in the country, on other hand they have shown liberal as well as right attitude accommodating Theravada tradition in Nepal. Revival of Theravada Buddhism in modern Nepal” is a milestone for the developing awareness on basic Buddhist morality, meditation and philosophy. It made possible to see celibacy monks and nuns in saffron colored robe in Nepal. It further made possible to hear Buddha’s word in Pali language and read Pali Buddhist text-Tripitaka.

It also causes then Vajrayani Priest, known as Guruju-s (Bajracharya-s and Shakya-s) and followers to rethink about their so called practices then like castism, animal sacrifice that had been influenced by Hindu politics.

Beside the Anagarika-s, introduction to Bhiksuni Samgha in modern Nepal is significant contribution in the history of Buddhism in Nepali. The appearance of Bhiksuni Samgha brought completeness in Buddhism in Nepal.

Modern Nepal may be only one country in the world where Sravakayana and both branches of Samyaksambuddhayana namely, Mahayana and Vajrayana are in practice. Celibacy Monk and Nun and Householder Buddhist priest (grhastha acarya) traditions can be regarded as the symbol of complete Samgha. On one hand their co-existence is an example of synchronization of diverge Buddhist traditions in one place. On other hand co-existence of Buddhism and other religions stands as clear example of religious peace and harmony in the world.


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